Remembering Gene Mills, Earlham’s interim president from 1996-97
August 20, 2020
Gene Mills, a former interim president of Earlham College and also a graduate and board member, died on Monday, Aug. 17. He was 95.
He was married to Dorothy (Dotty) W. Mills, also a graduate of Earlham, who died in February of this year. Her father, Ernest Wildman, served on Earlham’s faculty for many years. Gene and Dotty were happily married for more than 74 years.
After graduating from Earlham in 1948 with a degree in psychology, he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from Claremont Graduate University in California. He also earned a doctor of jurisprudence from the University of New Hampshire and was awarded an honorary doctorate in human relations from Earlham.
Mills was a decades-long member of Earlham’s Board of Trustees and agreed to serve as interim president from 1996 to 1997, putting his retirement on hold. As interim president, his first unofficial action is remembered as repairing the popular tree swing near The Heart of campus that continues to be a fixture of the College’s main quad.
He also made contributions that were perhaps unexpected of an interim leader in higher education, according to Tom Hamm, Earlham professor of history and quaker scholar in residence.
“Gene made the decision to begin construction of the Athletics and Wellness Center,” Hamm said. “Normally, interims would have been reluctant to commit the college to major projects, but he was convinced that it was necessary and convinced the board to proceed.
“Many of us realized that Gene came out of retirement because he felt called to service to Earlham,” he said. “His love of this place was palpable. He became interim president at a time when the college was facing tensions over both governance and finance, and he played a vital role in strengthening faculty morale.”
In his early career, he taught psychology at Whittier College in California for 10 years before joining the faculty at the University of New Hampshire where he served in various roles for 17 years, eventually becoming president.
Mills returned to Whittier in 1979 as president and served for the next 10 years. Shortly after he assumed the presidency, the Whittier Scholars Program and the Liberal Education Program were implemented, leading to national attention for the College, according to an obituary published by Whittier. He also presided over the Whittier's first capital campaign, which raised $25 million over a five-year span and increased alumni support by 21 percent.
Mills was named an honorary member of the Earlham Board of Trustees in July 1997 after decades of service. He continued to attend board meetings until his health declined.
He was active in professional and scholarly organizations and has served as a director and chairman of many educational and public service organizations.At UNH, he helped establish the widely-recognized Elderhostel organization, where he served for 20 years as a director and for six years as its chairman.
Mills was also a life-long member of West Newton Friends Meeting in Indiana.
He is survived by his son David, daughter Sara, and grandchildren.
Earlham will share any information from Mills’ family regarding plans for a memorial.
Brian Zimmerman, director of media relations